Eco mouse mat. Materials, manufacturing and product life information

Eco mouse mat. Materials, manufacturing and product life information

Intermediate materials

The materials used to manufacture this mouse mat include:

  • two layers of 100% natural bio-derived flax fibre, 100gsm 2×2 twill weave (0.175m²). Country of purchase: UK.
  • ~50ml nontoxic water-based polyvinyl alcohol adhesive. Bostik. Country of purchase:
  • medium density fibreboard (0.63m²). Boyle craft brand, prefabricated. Country of purchase: Australia. Country of manufacture: China
  • rubberised cork sheet. Country of purchase: Australia.

Raw material forming and processing (offsite, beyond our immediate control)

  • Untwisted flax fibres were woven into a 90° reinforcement textile pattern by our supplier.Biotex Flax provides high levels of performance, coupled with the ease of processing normally associated with glass-reinforced materials. The materials use low-twist technology to provide a combination of sustainability, performance and processability not previously seen in composites. Compared to glass fibre composites, Biotex Flax offers reduced weight, improved environmental impact, vibration damping, similar specific stiffness and safer handling. Biotex Flax reinforcements are based on renewable biomass and have fewer health and safety concerns than many conventional alternative materials.
  • Bostik PVA is a versatile water based PVA emulsion designed as a multipurpose glue which will give strong and lasting bond to a variety of porous and semi porous materials.PVA is prepared by first polymerizing vinyl acetate, and the resulting polyvinylacetate is converted to the PVA. Other precursor polymers are sometimes used, with formate, chloroacetate groups instead of acetate. The conversion of the polyesters is usually conducted by base-catalysed transesterification with ethanol:
    [CH2CH(OAc)]n + C2H5OH → [CH2CH(OH)]n + C2H5OAc

    In terms of microstructure, it is composed mainly of 1,3-diol linkages [-CH2-CH(OH)-CH2-CH(OH)-] but a few percent of 1,2-diols [-CH2-CH(OH)-CH(OH)-CH2-] occur, depending on the conditions for the polymerization of the vinyl ester precursor.

    The properties of the polymer depend on the amount of residual ester groups. No oil is required to produce it. PVA is nontoxic. It biodegrades slowly, and solutions containing up to 5% PVA are nontoxic to fish.

  • MDF is typically made up of 82% wood fibre, 9% urea-formaldehyde resin glue, 8% water and 1% paraffin wax. In Australia and New Zealand, the main species of tree used for MDF is plantation-grown radiata pine; but a variety of other products have also been used, including other woods, waste paper and fibres.When MDF is cut, a large quantity of dust particles are released into the air. The Environmental Impact of MDF has greatly improved over the years. Today, many MDF boards are made from a variety of materials. These include other woods, scrap, recycled paper, bamboo, carbon fibres and polymers, forest thinnings and sawmill off-cuts. As manufacturers are being pressured to come up with greener products, they have started testing and using non-toxic binders. New raw materials are being introduced. Straw and bamboo are becoming popular fibres because they are a fast-growing renewable resource.
    • Urea-formaldehyde, also known as urea-methanal, so named for its common synthesis pathway and overall structure, is a non-transparent thermosetting resin or plastic. It is produced from urea and formaldehyde. These resins are used in adhesives, finishes, particle board, MDF, and molded objects. In 2011, the US National Toxicology Program described formaldehyde as “known to be a Human Carcinogen”. The International Agency for research on cancer deemed formaldehyde as a carcinogen.Formaldehyde resins are commonly used to bind together the fibres in MDF, and testing has consistently revealed that MDF products emit free formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds that pose health risks at concentrations considered unsafe, for at least several months after manufacture. Urea-formaldehyde is always being slowly released from the edges and surface of MDF. When painting, it is a good idea to coat all sides of the finished piece in order to seal in the free formaldehyde. Wax and oil finishes may be used as finishes but they are less effective at sealing in the free formaldehyde.Whether these constant emissions of formaldehyde reach harmful levels in real-world environments is not yet fully determined. The primary concern is for the industries using formaldehyde. As far back as 1987, the U.S. EPA classified it as a “probable human carcinogen” and, after more studies, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in 1995, also classified it as a “probable human carcinogen”. Further information and evaluation of all known data led the IARC to reclassify formaldehyde as a “known human carcinogen” associated with nasal sinus cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer, and possibly with leukaemia in June 2004.Urea-formaldehyde, also known as urea-methanal, so named for its common synthesis pathway and overall structure,[1] is a non-transparent thermosetting resin or plastic. It is produced from urea and formaldehyde. These resins are used in adhesives, finishes, particle board, MDF, and molded objects.
  • There are about 2,200,000 hectares of cork forest worldwide; 34% in Portugal and 27% in Spain. Annual production is about 200,000 tons; 49.6% from Portugal, 30.5% from Spain, 5.8% from Morocco, 4.9% from Algeria, 3.5% from Tunisia, 3.1% Italy, and 2.6% from France. Once the trees are about 25 years old the cork is traditionally stripped from the trunks every nine years, with the first two harvests generally producing lower quality cork. The trees live for about 300 years.The cork industry is generally regarded as environmentally friendly. Cork production is generally considered sustainable because the cork tree is not cut down to obtain cork; only the bark is stripped to harvest the cork. The tree continues to live and grow. The sustainability of production and the easy recycling of cork products and by-products are two of its most distinctive aspects. Cork Oak forests also prevent desertification and are a particular habitat in the Iberian Peninsula and the refuge of various endangered species.Carbon footprint studies committed by Corticeira Amorim, Oeneo Bouchage of France and the Cork Supply Group of Portugal concluded that cork is the most environmentally friendly wine stopper in comparison to other alternatives. The Corticeira Amorim’s study, in particular (“Analysis of the life cycle of Cork, Aluminum and Plastic Wine Closures”), was developed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, according to ISO 14040. Results concluded that, concerning the emission of greenhouse gases, each plastic stopper released 10 times more CO2, whilst an aluminium screw cap releases 26 times more CO2 than does a cork stopper.
    • A wide variety of formulations using different types of rubber like Natural Rubber, Synthetic Rubber, Nitrile, Neoprene, EPDM Silicone and sizes of cork granuals are available to meet the industry’s various requirements.

Manufacturing (onsite)

  • All offcuts and scraps have been retained. These scraps will be used to make other products in the near future such as desktop designer items and dog chew toys.
  • No plastic materials were used in the construction or production of this mouse mat. That includes formers, guides, moulds, etc.

Waste

  • Absolutely no waste materials were generated either before, during or after the entire manufacturing phase. Our zero waste policy applies to all family/household members and employees, including all activities of their daily life.
  • All traditional unwanted waste materials received (in the form of packaging) were either reutilised, composted or burned¹ during the winter months for heating our own home property.

Product return (circular manufacturing economy)

  • The product may be returned to us for the purposes of reuse, refurbishing and upcycling. Alternatively, the rubberised-cork sheeting may removed from the core by simply peeling it off. Soaking the entire mouse mat in water for a few hours may aid removal of the backing rubberised-cork sheet. You can also return the entire product to us so that we can do this operation ourselves. Our postal address is:

vayakora
98 Mountain View Road
Moruya, NSW, 2537
Australia

Enf of life (product disposal)

  • We have determined that this product is best composted after its useful life is over. Industrial-scale composting is niether necessary nor required; home-composting should be sufficient. The best approach is to cut it up into smaller pieces and/or separate the individual layers. Moistening the mouse mat will also speed up the degradation time significantly. Composting time may vary but it should disappear within 9-12 months if your worm farm us in a nice and healthy state.
  • This can also be used as kindling and burned for home-heating purposes.

 

NOTE: While researching this article, we looked into the binder that is usde to make MDF. We discovered that urea-formaldehyde is “kind of nasty” (although it is not as bad as phenol formaldehyde or epoxide resin systems). Since we cannot verify that the MDF does not contain a urea-formaldehyde binder, we cannot recommend incinerating this product. In future we will look for more ecologically-friendly sources of MDF suppliers. At the moment the urea formaldehyde content is estimated to be around 5% and this should not be detrimental to your worm farm.

Also, despite an extensive search, we could not find the type of rubber used in the rubberised cork sheeting.We are quickly find that this happens when dealing with large suppliers such as Bunnings and Super Cheap Auto, etc. They simply do not state what minor or secondary materials are used in the products that they are selling. I personally think “this is crap”. It;s not good enough. We will endeavour to find more ecologically-aware suppliers and distributors who are more willing to provide information about their processing and production methods of the products that they sell.

 

¹Yes we seasonally burn unrecyclable polymers if they cannot be otherwise recycled or reused. We limit this incineration to polyethylene, polypropylene and polyester because they allow complete combustion. No other polymers are incinerated as they create toxic byproducts. We tend to avoid purchasing polymers with aromatic functional groups. All of the ash that is generated by our slow combustion heater is either reused to make geopolymeric concrete products or else used as a trace element fertiliser on our property.

Materials and manufacturing information to be included in NFC chip labelling.

Materials and manufacturing information to be included in NFC chip labelling.

It seems consumers today are blissfully unaware of the amount of damage they are doing to the environment. Although you could argue in their defense that it’s hard for them to make the right choices when they don’t even know what is going on behind the scenes.

Have you ever wondered why every step of the manufacturing process isn’t accurately described in detail and included whenever you by a product? Like what sorts of chemicals and compounds went into manufacturing all of the items we see on shelves? Today, that sort of detailed information is all but invisible to consumers at the time of purchase.

What I think many eco manufacturers should be doing is including much more information with their products. It could be more like a simple food ingredients label for instance, what went into making the thing. But why not go beyond this and include additional disposal information?

Something to aspire to would be to include a lot more product information, such as:

  • Where the raw materials were sourced including GPS information if possible. That way you can see which natural spaces are put into jeopardy.
  • How the materials were extracted, harvested, processed, refined. That way you can see which chemicals and processes are most harmful.
  • The manufacturing method, the production method. That way you can see which methods and processes are most wasteful.
  • The amount of waste that went into making the product. That way you can see which products are the least efficient use of material resources.
  • Best practices for disposing the product after the useful life is over. That way you can do the right thing by the environment.

The premise is is that being transparent about all the processing steps would give zero-waste manufacturers a huge competitive advantage.

Obviously there is too much information to print onto a little label. It could be included on the instruction sheet, but not everybody keeps those. One way to do it would be to use an NFC chip embedded into the product itself, which then links to a webpage with all of the pertinent information.

You might wonder if it’s a dumb idea to include a relatively non-ecological NFC electronic chip with a compostable, sustainable zero waste product. Isn’t that defeating the purpose? I’m going to answer that in point form:

  • I am mostly trying to influence tech-savvy cosumers here and encourage them to think about materials, manufacturing methods and the environment. I don’t think they’re doing that yet. It’s like technology is exempt from the cause and yet it’s one of the leading causes of environmental damage. Electronic waste is a big thing. It’s the elephant in the room and nobody wants to talk about it. The best thing consumers can do is to question more and consume less.
  • I’m also trying to convince all kinds of the ill-informed consumers to think about where this new product actually came from and what they are going to do with it when they are finished with it, the “before and after” if you like. Most day-to-day consumers today generally only think of the “here and now”.
  • Lastly, I’m attempting to encourage other manufacturers to be more open about their production methods. What chemicals and compounds went into making their widgets? How much energy did it take? How much water? How much waste did it generate? I already know that some of them don’t want to be open because it’s not currently in their best interests to do so. If they copy me, that’s a good thing overall. Copy away!

So I think the negative impact of additional NFC labelling will ultimately be better for the environment if it reduces overall consumption and e-waste and pushes (or drags) my competitors towards a more eco future.

The good news for consumers is that this is not an impossible goal today. Technology actually makes it relatively easy!

Having come up with the idea, I would now like to trial it for real on selected future vayakora products! Yes!! Why not? I am both the CEO and the webmaster of vayakora, so it’s almost “too easy”.

It just so happens that I have an NFC programming device and some spare NFC chips lying around that I will be using for another vayakora project.

Rather than simply make a blog post about this and talk about it forever and ever, I am going to trial this starting today. This is going to happen today. Not tomorrow, today. Today.

I am developing an eco mouse that is made of flax, MDF and cork. It’s currently in the beta testing phase and I am already late sending one off to a beta tester. By the way, if you want to beta test and eco mouse mat, please get in touch with me somehow or else post a reply below.

So I’m going to make this “today’s mission”:

I’m going to create a special webpage dedicated to the materials and manufacturing information about our new eco mouse mat. I’ll outline everything discussed above with respect to that product, how it can be dsiposed and the amount of waste that went into making it. I’m not feeling very  confident that I can accurately source where all the raw materials came from (I expect many companies won’t reveal that information due to secrecy), but at the very least I will try – I will ask them. Finally with every new mouse mat, I’ll include an NFC chip that links directly to that webpage.

Plastic identification and recycling codes

Plastic identification and recycling codes

You know, my lecturer in polymeric materials used to say polymers were not bad materials, it’s the way they are over utilised that is the main problem with them.

I think one problem today is that people mistake the plastic identification symbol for a recycling symbol. I’m no expert on recycling, but I do know a thing or two about materials.

How does one easily recycle polystyrene foam? Or kevlar? Or any polymer containing aromatic compounds?

The truth is, to my knowledge, thermosetting polymers generally can’t be recycled easily without some very harsh solvents, so they’re generally being discarded. That means all resins like bakelite, the epoxy resin used in carbon fibre composites.

I may be wrong, but I believe that in many countries, it’s not a compulsory requirement to even label plastics. Of course the EU is ahead of say, Asia, Africa or South America.

Even so, just because plastic identification symbol is used, doesn’t mean a recycling centre will take it. I think it’s a kind of recycling loophole.